August 23, 2013

Stories can change our brain chemistry

"Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds, but in doing that, they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry; and that’s what it means to be a social creature." - Paul Zak

I find the research described in this  short video by neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak,  author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. and director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies fascinating.   In this short animated film, he talks about his research project, partially funded by DARPA, where he studies people's neurological and physiological response to stories.

His findings show that stories can elicit powerful empathic responses, especially those following the pattern of Gustav Freytag's classic dramatic arc.  Listening to these stories triggered the release of neurochemicals like cortisol (related to distress) and oxytocin (related to empathy)  in the listeners and actually seemed to change their behaviour.


I've seen how using authentic stories in change projects can make a big difference to people's attitude towards the change as well as more practically on the retention of change messages and mobilising and sustaining behaviour change.  This kind of research explains starts to explain our positive results.

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